Ancient Problem front cover

The prehistoric origins of patriarchy and social oppression
Bruce Garrard
Paperback, 203 pages
Published 2011
RRP: £9.95
Special price for copies bought from this website: £7.00



This is a wonderfully thought-provoking book with a suitably provocative title. The core premise is that human culture has been developing for tens of thousands of years, and this includes our evolutionary predecessors and even our evolutionary companions such as the Neanderthal. This culture was created by language and the human race has been talking for a long time: singing the landscape, storytelling, and living in close relationship to each other in family groups in a state of harmony and creativity.

Then there came a point, somewhere around 4000 BCE, when men started to band together with weapons and enforce control over others. The written word, normally associated with culture, also began at this time as a record of warfare and accounting. Bruce seeks to discover firstly what our original culture might have been, and secondly why the men then turned their weapons on each other.

Thankfully, this is not an academic book with the staid restrictions on conjecture that academia requires. As a result, the book reads like a songline, calling the landscape of our evolutionary journey. This is a celebration of speculation, gathering the thoughts of diverse authors such as Marija Gimbutas, Richard Leakey, Fiedrich Engels, James DeMeo, and many others.

Bruce explores the concept of matristic cultures, based on partnership between men and women: co-operation rather than competition. The Old Neolithic culture of Europe was one such matristic culture, about which we know the most through the pioneering work of Marija Gimbutas. The book explores different aspects of this proto-farming society, where the male role tended towards hunting and herding and the female towards gathering and horticulture.

The middle chapter of the book is titled ‘Palaeopsychology’, and is based on the work of Harvey jackins, founder of the Re-evaluation Counseling movement. Here it is suggested that the fundamental human condition is one of enthusiasm, flexibility, and creativity, with a natural attraction to other human beings. However, emotional wounding takes place from an early age and builds up armouring that then creates harsh and repressed behavior. This is largely our modern condition, which ahs been built on generation after generation.

The Old Neolithic culture of Europe is contrasted with patristic cultures developing on then steppes of Asia – the hunters who took up herding. These cultures were originally matristic but came under enormous climatic stress as their lands became arid, and the theory of James DeMeo is that these cultures disintegrated and that the traumatised survivors reformed into a patristic model, emotionally armoured by their experiences generation on generation, eventually becoming a culture fully prepared to engage in warfare and genocide. And the rest is history …

This brief review does not really give justice to the magnificent stream of ideas flowing through this book, which are wide-ranging, unrestrained, and happily controversial. Bruce Garrard has been a creative and engaged member of our alternative community in Glastonbury for over 20 years, and ‘The Ancient Problem with Men’ is a welcome addition to the canon of new Avalonian literature.

Mike Jones, The Glastonbury Oracle, February 2012.


“Once, before the great cultural advances of 35,000 years ago, before the technological developments which made life possible through the last ice age, before the beginnings of farming, before the Neolithic ‘revolution’, before the first towns, before the first cities, there was oner basic reality to human life. And afterwards there was the farmer and the herder, the European and the Asiatic, the ‘matrist’ and the ‘patrist’, the hunter-gatherer and modern civilisation.”

The key element of this change was the emergence of patriarchy – rule by men – along with oppressive social structures, and warfare.

How and why this came about is a question that the academic establishment has failed to answer. We are still living with the myth, left over from nineteenth century pre-conceptions, that ‘primitive man’ was brutish, sexist and lacking in culture. This is quite untrue. Patriarchy, and the injustices and cruelties that have come with it, is not natural to human beings. It has only been a significant force in society since about 4,000 BCE.

The myth has been dispelled to some extent by recent work that highlights the Goddess Culture of Neolithic Europe. Its demise at the hands of warrior invaders from the East is well described – but with no explanation as to why this came about, nor what caused such a warrior culture to come into being.

‘The Ancient Problem with Men’ carries the discussion forward by presenting a fresh exploration of human origins: not only our physical evolution but also the economic, cultural and psychological aspects of our development. The results are both intriguing and hopeful.

A brief extract:

Riane Eisler’s work [The Chalice and the Blade] is both an inspiration and a conundrum. ‘The Chalice’ is the goddess-worshipping, matrifocal culture of Old Europe. Based largely on the research of Marija Gimbutas, she offers a view that is rapidly changing the way we think about the origins of civilisation: it does not depend on kings, armies, or the concentration of power and wealth.

A sophisticated level of culture, including the first known towns, was created by people with a religion centred on the Goddess and an understanding of human genesis based on the lineage from mother to daughter; people whose society did not promote or idealise the role of the warrior, and whose social structure appears to have been remarkably egalitarian. This way of life had its roots in Ice Age Europe, tens of thousands of years ago. It found its final and most impressive expression in Minoan Crete, between about 3000 and 1500 BCE.

‘The Blade’ is the god-worshipping, patriarchal culture that emerged from the Asian steppes, waged war on the goddess-worshippers of old Europe, and ultimately led to the emergence and growth in importance of the warrior class of Greece and Rome. Apart from ancient Crete, the development of the classical world essentially came to be based on male rather than female values, paternal rather than maternal rights and powers, gods rather than goddesses. This happened – or at least the process began – in response to warlike invasions from the east. It is hardly surprising that, in the view of feminist readers of Eisler and Gimbutas, this is where it all went wrong.

But then there is the conundrum. The symbolism of chalice and blade is the symbolism of balance, of creative union, of human wholeness. To portray these events of our immediate pre-history in terms of right and wrong, of patriarchal ‘baddies’ and goddess-worshipping ‘goodies’, is simplistic. It misses the most important point – that both protagonists in this, the first real warfare in the human story, were equally part of the human race and equally part of the same evolutionary process – and it leaves more questions unanswered than answered …